Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Forms Imperative: Reduce Clutter

The California Division of Workers' Compensation is finally getting around to moving forward with revising various notices that go to injured workers.

This is a project started long ago, following a 2010 report from the Commission on Health, Safety and Workers' Compensation that critiqued regulations that led to notices it said were overly wordy and sometimes redundant, as well as “complex, frightening, vague (and) confusing,” and overdue - but the DWC got side tracked by a little project called SB 863.

The division first proposed the rules in April 2013 by posting them in draft form on its online forum.

Of course with the possibility of new forms, everyone has to get their say in to make sure that their special interests are represented.

Applicant attorneys want to be sure that at every step of the way the injured worker knows that they have the right to an attorney and that there are as many forms or other communications sent to injured workers as possible every step of the way.

Employer groups want to be sure that anything concerning websites or alternative means of communication are "if available."

In the meantime the division seems focused on some potential cost savings simplifying and minimizing forms.
Clutter - I hate clutter.
DWC thinks new forms and regulations could reduce litigation and save an estimated $15 million a year, although it admits in its Statement of Reasons that this is just a WAG:

“However, the lack of empirical data on the extent of attorney involvement and litigation before benefit notices reached their current level of complexity, in the mid-1990s, in addition to the difficulty in ascertaining the current level of litigation driven by complicated benefit notices as opposed to amount of compensation paid, casts doubt on the study’s assumptions,” the division said in its Initial Statement of Reasons. “Lower savings are more probable, although there is no accurate means to forecast or identify savings directly due to the regulation’s improvements after they become effective.”

CHSWC has said that revising benefit notice regulations could reduce legal defense expenses by $43 million a year, based on estimated savings of 5% from the $867 million carriers paid in defense litigation costs in 2008.

I know everyone likes to talk about costs - whether something will reduce, increase or shift costs. But making the discussion about costs in this context interferes with the ultimate goal of revising forms that are more simple but still communicate effectively statutorily mandated language.

One of the biggest conversation problems in workers' compensation is the seemingly orchestrated concert about costs - whether this change will increase or reduce costs, etc. It seems that every little regulatory or legislative move makes the melody all about costs.

Forget about costs. Talk about value. Value is partially about costs, but also about return on investment. If X dollars are input, then we want to see Y result returned.

DWC for its part sort of does this in its most recent forms proposals by projecting that there will be less confusion which results in less litigation - though admittedly there is no empirical evidence to back this up.

Still, that the community is engaged in producing better forms to lead to better communications is encouraging.

I don't know how DWC comes up with the graphical elements of its forms, but my guess based on form layout and knowing how government operates is that someone within the Division was tasked with the job using a word processor program.

That's a tough job - because word processing programs are inherently deficient in dealing with graphical elements such as layout, borders, font changes, etc.

What about giving the task to a real artist - someone who is trained and makes a living at design graphics using modern programs such as Adobe Illustrator or InDesign; something that was made for preparing graphical layout?

I look at the current proposed Claim Form, and while it is a bit better than previous versions it still makes my head spin: too much information in too small of a space; i.e. clutter.

I hate clutter. Reminds me of hoarding which makes me uncomfortable.

My guess is that a good graphic artist can render the Claim Form into a much cleaner, more easily digested form while still meeting statutory and regulatory requirements than a DWC employee. For one, graphic artists look at a sheet of paper much differently than you or I. For another, someone thinking outside the box won't be stifled by prior versions.

The DWC will hear testimony on the proposed rules during a public hearing on Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. in the auditorium of the Elihu Harris state office building, 1515 Clay St. in Oakland.

Public comment will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Sept. 3. Comments can be mailed to Maureen Gray, regulations coordinator, Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Workers' Compensation, P.O. Box 420603, San Francisco, CA 94142.

Comments can also be sent by fax to 510-285-0687 or by email to dwcrules@dir.ca.gov.

The rulemaking notice, Initial Statement of Reasons and proposed rules and notice forms are here.

The draft rules and public comments from 2013 are here.

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